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Building a dementia-friendly community

Dementia Awareness Day (20 September 2014)

by by Hannah Knight

Suitable for Key Stage 3/4

Aims

To increase awareness of dementia.

Preparation and materials

  • Visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk and order a free Dementia Friends pack and badge.
  • Obtain a copy of the book The Dementia Diaries.
  • Watch the following videos and have the third one available and the means to play it during the assembly:
    – making The Dementia Diaries at: http://youtu.be/sYYVSRCWKAA
    – the Dementia Friends advert at: http://youtu.be/LfrnWrpPq54
    – small changes to help make a dementia-friendly community (3.35 minutes) at: http://youtu.be/Fz8ACEu7Lho
  • You could organize for students to deliver much of the material in this assembly.
  • Have available the song ‘With a little help from my friends’ by The Beatles and the means to play it at the end of the assembly (check copyright).

Assembly

  1. Ask the students, ‘What words do you associate with dementia?’ They may say, loneliness, memory loss, sadness, old age.

  2. Dementia is not just about losing your memory; it is a disease of the brain and can affect thinking, communicating and everyday tasks. Surprisingly, over 800,000 people in the UK have dementia and it is estimated that, in 2021, over a million will have it.

    When you have dementia, you tend to lose your most recent memories before you lose your emotions.

    Imagine I am balancing a bookcase on each arm, the bookcase on the left is emotions and the bookcase on the right is memories. Each emotion and memory is put on a shelf in one of the bookcases, the most recent being at the top. If I shake the bookcases, it is likely that some of the emotions and memories will fall from the top shelves of the bookcases. This illustrates how people with dementia forget their most recent memories and emotions, but they can still remember some from years ago – perhaps from their childhood. 

    This can be very confusing and distressing for dementia sufferers. Imagine if you had dementia and lived in a care home and your son came in to visit you. You have an argument and this makes you feel very angry and upset. When your son leaves, you forget that you had had an argument, but still feel angry and upset, though you don’t know why.

  3. Each person experiences dementia in their own way, but it can be helpful to think of the way the condition progresses as a series of stages. The early stage, middle stage and late stage.

    Alzheimer’s is one of the commonest types of dementia. It is progressive, which means it gradually gets worse over time. The early signs are not always clear – it can sometimes be mistaken for the effects of stress, bereavement or old age. Early signs can be forgetting recent conversations and events, repeating yourself frequently, having poor judgement and being unwilling to participate.

    The middle stages of Alzheimer’s are more obvious. Dementia sufferers will need more help with their day-to-day living and reminders to eat, wash, dress and use the toilet. At this point, they will start to become confused and struggle to recognize their loved ones. Some people with dementia will confuse night and day and get up in the middle of the night to have breakfast or walk in the street in their pyjamas. The most worrying part of the middle stage is when dementia sufferers pose a risk to themselves and others, such as using the oven and causing a fire.

    During the later stage, the Alzheimer’s will spread more vigorously, making those who have it more dependent on others. Recognition will tend to cease completely and people with Alzheimer’s will start to lose control of their speech and have difficulty swallowing food. This is the stage during which dementia sufferers need our love and support more than ever.

  4. So, how can we help? The video I am about to show you will give you some ideas.

    Play the video small changes to help make a dementia-friendly community.

    As you can see from the video, kind actions rather than getting annoyed or being dismissive can help people with dementia feel more relaxed and increase their confidence and self-worth.

  5. I am going to read you two scenarios and I’d like you to put your hands up to give suggestions as to what actions we could take as members of the community.

    Scenario 1: A lady is walking along a busy road with two bags of shopping looking a bit lost and confused.
    Possible answers: help the lady with her shopping, ask the lady if she is lost, give the lady directions to her home, offer to call a friend or family member, offer friendly conversation and reassurance.

    Scenario 2: You come across an elderly man you think may have dementia in a queue in the supermarket. He looks very distressed and upset and appears to be on his own.
    Possible answers: be patient as this will help his nerves, engage him in friendly conversation, perhaps try to bring back some reminiscence in the conversation as this could bring back some nice memories, tell the person at the checkout that the man may need some assistance with his bags, offer to help the person yourself and help to keep him out of danger.

    We all lead busy lives and sometimes we can miss the signs, so, when you are next walking around the supermarket or down your local high street, try to take more notice of the people around you. Do they look upset, confused, lost? If so, how could you help?

  6. If you have younger siblings, you could also introduce them to The Dementia Diaries (hold up your copy), which is a collection of true stories about young people and their experiences with dementia. They are based on touching and funny stories from families across Kent talking about the good days, bad days and everything in between. This book is available in libraries, schools or you could buy your own copy from a bookshop or order it online.

  7. You can become a dementia friend by visiting www.dementiafriends.org.uk, which is a scheme supported by thousands of people, including celebrities – you may have seen the advert on TV – and offers lots of information and resources that can prepare you for encounters with people with dementia. It could also prepare you for if a family member or friend was ever diagnosed. You can sign up for a free booklet and badge (hold up your copy) and, by wearing the badge, you could help spread the word to family and friends that, if we all make an effort to be nice to someone with dementia, we can really help them out!

Time for reflection

Close your eyes. Let us be thankful for the gift of living, the ability to love and be loved, for the opportunity to experience the everyday wonders of the world, for sleep and water, for a mind that thinks and feels.

Let’s also be thankful for community spirit and how we can think of others before ourselves.

Music

‘With a little help from my friends’ by The Beatles

Publication date: September 2014   (Vol.16 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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